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September 29, 2012

Priest: Mergers, closing not on radar screen

NEW CASTLE — Times are changing in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and more upheaval may lie ahead for its Lawrence County parishes.

That, though, isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, according to the Rev. Frank Almade.

Almade was ceremonially installed over the past two weekends as the pastor of four New Castle parishes: St. Vitus, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Joseph the Work and Mary, Mother of Hope. It’s believed that the four-parish assignment is a first for the diocese.

“It’s a reflection of a couple of things,” Almade said. “Number one, and it’s no secret, that we have declining numbers of active priests. At the same time, probably we have too many parish communities.

“The number of people who have been active in the Diocese of Pittsburgh has been going down. So the number of communities that we have probably is a little too many, and was better suited for earlier times.”

Does that mean, then, that parishes in Lawrence County and other areas facing similar declines may one day be merged into a single parish?

Almade said that the diocese and Catholic leadership in New Castle have been examining that question for over five years. So far, the matter of merging parishes and/or closing churches remains on a back burner.

“One of the things that has been very successful is increased collaboration between and among the priests and the people,” Almade said. “Right now, in Lawrence County we have eight Catholic parishes, and we work together. And we have seven priests. So we’ve been working together in a variety of ways.

“When the bishop appointed me, he and I both agreed that the timing was not right for merger talk or even considering closing church buildings. He and I are on the same page with that.”

There’s no telling, though, when that page might be turned.

“ I don’t think anybody should be blind to the fact that our demographics are going downhill, not uphill, just like the demographics of the community,” Almade said. “And yes, it is possible — in the future — that we will consider merging parishes or closing churches.

“But that’s many years off — it’s not on my radar screen. Right now, I think we have some really fine people and that working together, collaborating, is the key focus.”

 

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